NHS Professionals offers nurses the opportunity to keep practising after retiring and helps the NHS retain their key skills, reports Jo Carlowe
Finishing work abruptly on reaching retirement age can be a difficult adjustment to make, both mentally
According to research from the merged charity Age Concern and Help the Aged, the majority of older people do not want to just put their feet up and say goodbye to their professional lives on retirement.
A recent study by the charity found that six out of 10 over-50s want to work past the state pension age and eight out of 10 want mandatory retirement ages to be scrapped.
This is increasingly seen in nursing, with more and more retired and semi-retired nurses opting to continue working on an ad-hoc or part-time basis.
Since NHS Professionals was formed in 2004, many older nurses have signed up to it, seeing flexible working as the perfect compromise.
Of the 45,500 nurses registered with NHSP, 10% are semi-retired or retired, and this is likely to increase.
According to Chris Day, the organisation’s Director of Marketing and Communications, the number of retired members has increased dramatically. When NHSP was formed, older members made up just 3-4% of flexible workers.
‘Older nurses have years of experience and skills in caring for people. This is a skill that could be lost’
Flexible working appears to be a win-win situation, benefiting both retired or semi-retired nurses and the NHS.
Retired or semi-retired flexible workers retain financial security and keep up to date with clinical and technological changes in health care, enjoying the intellectual challenges that go with that. There are also the psychological and social benefits of teamworking, and the status and satisfaction of making a contribution professionally. All these can be lost when nurses fold up their uniforms for good.
‘By retirement, working has been the mainstay of weekday activity for many older people for as long as 50 years, so it can be quite a shock to have a lot of time on your hands,’ says Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age Concern and Help the Aged.
‘Switching to part-time work or completely changing roles are two options to consider that can make the transition easier. Not working is not an option for many baby boomers who may be paying off their mortgage, have dependent children to support, or have not saved enough for a decent retirement income.’
Moreover, by keeping its older nurses, the NHS benefits from years of experience that would otherwise be lost.
Significantly, Mr Day notes that retired and newer nurses make for an ideal skill mix. He says that nursing today has become more professional and technical - but this has sometimes been at the expense of people skills.
‘Older nurses have years of experience and skills in caring for people. This is a skill that could be lost. One of the most important roles that retired flexible workers bring to the workplace is the support and experience that they share with new nurses,’ he says.
‘In midwifery, for example, an experienced midwife is probably worth two new workers.’
Moreover, training a new nurse costs around £100,000 - so retired flexible nurses can be seen as a valuable cost-saving resource, he adds.
So how do nurses go about becoming flexible workers - and just how flexible is ‘flexible’?
When nurses sign up to NHS Professionals they can access a computerised schedule listing available shifts in their clinical and geographical area. The number of shifts they choose to take on is entirely up to them, although on average most flexible workers opt to work 8-10 shifts a month.
Depending on the hours they want to work and the shifts they choose, they could continue to earn a salary similar to that of full-time work. NHS Professionals pays the same Agenda for Change rates as other parts of the NHS.
Flexible really does mean flexible, with some nurses opting for split shifts, for example, working for just three or four hours, often to cover the twilight shift between 5pm and the 8pm start of the night shift. Others may choose to work far more hours, although Working Time Directive guidelines apply to those hoping to work over 48 hours a week.
In reality, most retired nurses work slightly fewer hours than some of the younger nurses, and many will choose to work on wards and for trusts that are familiar to them - although this is, of course, a generalisation.
If a practitioner has retired and has not worked for some time, they are still eligible to return to flexible working as long as they are a registered nurse. They will need an RCN pin number to show that they are fit to practise. Without that, they can still work as a care support worker. Those who return to nursing will need to complete the RCN’s return to practice course.
Typically, most nurses approaching retirement (an option available from the age of 55) who want to become flexible workers do so by joining NHSP 12 months before their retirement date. This means that police checks can be completed by the time they are ready to become flexible workers.
All nurses who become members go through an occupational health assessment and will undergo ongoing checks at 40, 50, 60 and 65 years - but there is no ceiling on how long nurses can work. Provided that they are physically able and clinically competent, there is no age at which they are obliged to stop.
So, flexible working offers the opportunity for nurses to work less towards the end of their career or after retirement. It can be a way of reducing hours, responsibility and pressure without allowing years of experience to go to waste.
‘Many of our retired or semi-retired flexible workers have worked for 20 or 30 years, so to go from that to doing absolutely nothing is a shock,’ says Mr Day.
‘Our retired flexible workers say they do not want to turn off and let go but they want to work on their terms and not the hospital’s. Flexible working allows them to do that and to know that they are still contributing.’
Case Study: Diane Webber
Diane Webber, 58, from Romford in Essex, retired from Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust at the end of March this year, having spent 10 years as an intensive care matron. She has 40 years’ experience in nursing and has just become an NHS Professionals flexible worker.
‘I no longer want the pressure of being a matron. I have spent nearly 30 years working full-time in intensive care,’ Ms Webber says.
‘Although the hours are 37.5 a week, one is often there longer because of the pressures of the job, plus I have always kept myself clinically updated, working practically on the shop floor in neuroscience and general intensive care. I had responsibility for over 30 intensive care beds.
‘I also wanted to give myself more leisure time. I have taken up tennis again after a 15-year gap and I love gardening and DIY, and I wanted more time to spend with my family. I have two sons of 23 and 28 years old. I may also travel. I’d like to go to Africa on a safari.’
Ms Webber finds the flexibility extremely attractive. ‘The scheme I have joined really is flexible. I can work two days one week and none the next if I want to,’ she says.
‘I just book myself in on a computer system which lists the shifts available in my area. With my expertise, I can work on high dependency, intensive care or theatre recovery.
‘It will work for me, allowing me to do what I want to do while, at the same time, enabling me to keep up with the new technologies - because in intensive care these advance very quickly.’
‘It means that I can have my leisure time but still keep my brain in gear. It also means that my experience is not lost as there is still an awful lot I can offer.
‘The only downside is that I won’t get to work so much with some of my old colleagues - I really did make some very good friends - but I can adapt well.’
Ms Webber would suggest that others approaching retirement should sign up to NHS Professionals. ‘I would recommend the scheme to anyone in my position,’ she says.
‘The main thing is to be organised. Once I retired, I had to rejoin NHS Professionals independently from my old trust. This meant they had to redo CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] checks which can take 6-20 weeks for clearance. So I made sure I had everything in place early.’
Flexible working after retirement can help older workers adjust